Thursday, August 11 2022

I was only a teenager when I was first sent out to harvest crops in a wheat field. Later in my teaching career, between 1987 and 1989, I saw my students forced to work in fields and roads during their summer holidays.

Uyghur forced labor has been prevalent ever since. It was quite common for the Uyghur terminology “Hashar” to appear to mean compulsory labor.

Shortly after 2016, international media attention revealed the hidden atrocities of Chinese internment camps. Numerous reports, research, leaked documents, official statements and victim testimonies have made this problem inescapable.

As a result, the United States passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which went into effect on Tuesday.

The UFLPA has established a presumption that “any commodity, article mined, produced or manufactured in whole or in part in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China” and any products of forced labor “do not have the right to enter the United States.” The importer must demonstrate to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) equivalent evidence to prove otherwise to be permitted entry.

In Canada, a parliamentary report highlighted the existence of Uyghur forced labor and called on the Government of Canada to “strengthen import control mechanisms to ensure that products made with forced labor do not enter the Canadian market” , but Ottawa is still monitoring without any restrictions. As a result, Canada has become a dumping ground for the products of Uyghur forced labor.

A Global Affairs advisory published on January 12, 2021 served only as a pretext. Despite the relevant provision of the Canada-United States-Mexico Free Trade Agreement (USMCA) and an amended Customs Tariff Act that already prohibited forced labor imports, Canadian border officials did not intercepted only one shipment, compared to more than 1,400 by US agents during the same period. . It tells the bare reality.

Independent research groups have well documented the state-sponsored use of Uyghur forced labor. Reports from Australia, publications from the Helena Kennedy Center at Sheffield Hallam University, among others, have revealed coercive labor programs targeting Uyghurs. China’s leaked “Nankai report” met the International Labor Organization’s definition of forced labor.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute has identified 12 Canadian companies by tracing their supply chain related to cotton from the Uyghur region. Using isotopic analysis, German researchers have found traces of cotton from the Uyghur region in Puma, Adidas and Hugo Boss clothing.

To prevent Canada from profiting from this deeply corrupt practice, it should act quickly by implementing a range of measures, including, but not limited to:

  • Effective enforcement with detention of forced labor goods by Canadian border agents, instead of relying on voluntary corporate due diligence.
  • Establish a remedy-focused mechanism and incorporate proposed bills. Only Bill C-262 introduced puts more emphasis on the recourse mechanism.
  • Targeted scope to adequately address Uyghur state-sponsored forced labor in the Uyghur region and the bill is also expected to allow banning of imports from a particular region. At this time, only Bill S-204 deals with targeted scope.
  • The burden of proof rests with the importer to prove that the products concerned have not been contaminated or transported by Uyghur forced labor.
  • Creating transparency and supply chain mapping.

The USMCA should impose a coordination system to support Canadian border authorities and ensure transparency. Officials must publicly disclose customs data to enable monitoring of forced labor. A public list of sanctioned production sites, entities, industries and regions must be established and maintained. In addition, this system should oblige companies to disclose relevant information regarding subsidiaries and suppliers throughout their supply chain, including the origin of raw materials.

  • Due diligence. Due to the highly repressive environment of this state-sponsored forced labor system, meaningful on-the-ground due diligence is impossible in the Uyghur region. In such cases, a forced labor legislative instrument is an essential complementary tool to business due diligence to deter and prevent businesses from importing goods from these environments.

Mehmet Tohti is a Uighur-Canadian human rights activist and Executive Director of @UyghurAdvocacy, based in Ottawa.

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